Steam Packet Road Races to Post TT Road Races 1991 – 2019

In News by Phil Edge

1991 saw a new event added to the annual TT Festival, which effectively extended the competitive TT period by one day. The “Isle of Man Steam Packet Company National Road Races’ were introduced to provide entertainment for enthusiasts who were staying on the Island after the end of the TT Races, as it was at the time proving impossible to ‘evacuate the many thousands of bikers in a day or two’, as once was the case.

So what better way to keep the fans of road racing occupied, than to promote an event that would achieve this aim, along with providing the chance for the competitors who had pitted their skills around the most famous 37.73 mile ribbon of road in the world for the past two weeks, to attempt to recoup some of their expenses with a generous prize fund.

The Steam Packet Company requested the organisers of the Southern ‘100’ Races and the Pre-TT Classic Races, held on the 4.25-mile Billown Circuit, in the south of the Island, if they would be prepared to run an extra meeting. The discussions resulting in the inaugural event being run on Saturday 8th June 1991with a prize fund of £5,500.00.

Southern ‘100’ Racing devised a three-race programme catering for machines ranging from 125cc to 750cc, with practicing taking place in the afternoon and racing, early evening. The calibre of the entry was first class, for the three classes, 125cc and 400cc Supersport; 250cc and 350cc, followed by the 750s, competing for a prize fund which stood at over £5,000. In all ninety-nine entries were received.

The ‘weathermen’ must have known that the Steam Packet was sponsoring the event, for such were the conditions that the sponsors could have almost sailed their fleet around the course! Driving rain forced a 50-minute delay in the proceedings, resulting in the race distances being reduced in length, however, the waiting was worthwhile for the surprisingly large crowd considering the conditions.

Joey Dunlop made a welcome return to the Billown Circuit after a break of 14 years and showed he had lost none of his course knowledge. First event of the evening was the six lap combined 125cc and 400cc Supersport race – Joey led the pack into Ballabeg, but water in the ‘works’ caused problems at Church Bends, however he coaxed the little Honda into life on the run to Great Meadow, although down in tenth place. Leading the race was newcomer James Courtney, who was also second overall on the roads, Dave Leach having put his 400 Yamaha into a commanding lead. Courtney was the ‘125’ sandwich between the 400s of Leach and Ian Lougher and that was the way they crossed the line. Joey Dunlop finished fourth overall and second in the 125cc category. Richard Mortimer completed the top three in the smaller class, as David Madsen-Mygdal took third position in the Supersport class.

Next up was the 250/350cc race reduced from ten to eight laps – Joey Dunlop had no problems on his 250cc Honda Britain machine, taking a start to finish victory at 85.57 miles per hour. Ian Lougher, Dave Leach, Gary Radcliffe, Richard Coates, and James Courtney created the excitement. Coates excelled in the latter stages with an impressive ride, overhauling Leach for sixth place, then ‘Raddish’ for fourth, then, appropriately for the conditions, dived inside Courtney at Alexander Bridge on lap six and set about catching Lougher [the Junior TT winner], ousting him on lap 7 to take second place at the chequered flag.

The feature race of the evening, the 750cc class saw Joey Dunlop, Kenny Harrison, Dave Leach and Gary Radcliffe on the front row. When the lights changed, once again it was Joey who led into Ballakeighan, although Kenny’s cheer was short lived as he overshot at the tight right-hander. At the end of the lap it was Leach, Dunlop and Radcliffe filling the leader board positions. Amazingly, Dave and Joey averaged over 90 miles per hour as they powerslid their big 750s around the 4-25 mile circuit, with the Yamaha rider [Leach] controlling the pace, his Honda rival seemingly content with second position and taking the flag 13.2 seconds in arrears to Dave Leach. David Madsen-Mygdal [Honda] just got the better of Gary Radcliffe [Kingswood Honda] for third place and the end of eight very wet laps where they were credited with the same time!

So ended the inaugural ‘Steam Packet National Road Races’, everyone having enjoyed the outstanding racing in what was appalling weather conditions and looked forward to returning in 1992, hopefully with improved weather conditions.

Such was the success of the 1991 meeting, that the Steam Packet Company had no hesitation in sponsoring the races in 1992 and continued to do so up to and including 2007.

A major change took place during 2008 and 2009, when the TT organisers the ACU decided that the 250cc and 125cc races should be renamed the Lightweight and Ultra-Lightweight TT Races, with a combined 600/1000cc race included in the programme as a support event.

Special Trophies similar to the original TT trophies were made and the riders received the appropriate replicas.

2008 saw 12-lap races for the Lightweight & Ultra-Lightweight TT Races with Ian Lougher taking the 250 honours – stats show 23 starters; 7 DNF’s; 16 Finishers 5 Silver & 2 Bronze Replicas awarded. Chris Palmer claimed another TT win in the 125cc race in which there were 16 starters; 4 DNF’s; 12 Finishers with 6 Silver Replicas and 4 Bronze.

Ryan Farquhar won the ‘supporting’ 1000 race on the McAdoo Kawasaki.

2009 and further changes with the Lightweight and Ultra-Lightweight TT Races being divided into two eight-lap races for each class, the overall winner being decided on world-championship points system.

The 125 class first race was won by Ian Lougher, from Roy Richardson and William Dunlop: the second by Chris Palmer from Ian Lougher and Roy Richardson. Ian Lougher topped the points table along with £2650.00 prize fund.

The Lightweight finishing order in both races was Ian Lougher, Michael Dunlop, and Barry Davidson, with the adopted Ulsterman being declared the overall winner and this time pocketing £3100.00.

By far the most exciting race of the day, the 1000cc race slotted in between the two-stroke bonanza, provided an eight-lap duel between John Burrows (Suzuki) and Mark Parrett (Yamaha) with the Ulster rider taking the verdict by0.205 of a second, with local rider Stephen Oates filling the final podium position. The Suzuki man returned to Cookstown £700.00 better off!

2010 and the ‘Lightweight TT Races’ were once again mothballed, and the Steam Packet Races were relabelled the Post TT Road Races.

Manx Telecom became the first ‘title sponsor’ of the Post TT Races, with still the three-race format, although the classes were altered somewhat. The 125cc class had 400cc four-stroke machines added to the race, whilst the 250’s had the 650cc twins included, with the ‘big capacity’ race becoming a 600cc only race.

The revised programme was well received as the TT riders made the short journey from Douglas to Castletown and re-jigged their riding styles for close massed-start races.

The local telecom enterprise concluded after the 2012 races with Italian tyre giant Metzeler taking over the reigns for the following three years, although the 2014 races were lost to the weather, the first time the complete meeting was not run.

2015 saw the demise of the 125/400cc races, being replaced by the Superbikes up to 1100cc.

Local ‘Southside’ butchers Radcliffe took over the title sponsorship role in 2016, again for a three-year stint with the races continuing in the familiar format and whilst the number of the top TT riders declined slightly, more riders were making the journey across from the adjacent isles just to compete in the Post TT, in readiness for returning later in the year for the Southern 100!

2019 and Colas (Isle of Man) were the title sponsor in a one-year deal, as part of their long-term contract as Course Title Sponsor.

This year, 2020, should have seen Silicone Racing take the heads-up as Title sponsor, that was until the Covid-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt in March.

Over the twenty-eight years of the Steam Packet Races & the Post TT Races being held Ulster based, Welshman Ian Lougher has emerged as the most successful rider amassing 12 race victories between his first entry in 1991 and his last in 2012.

However it was not until 2004 he collected his first winner laurel wreath and having received one, Ian went home with three!

The following year ha had to make do with just one, whilst 2006 he collected two race wins and setting a pattern just one in 2007.

During the ‘TT Years’ he lifted four winners’ laurels and returning in 2012 he received his 12th and final laurel wreath after taking the race win in the 600cc race on a Kawasaki.

Second most successful rider to date is Joey Dunlop with 11 race victories between 1991 and 1999.

In joint third place are Jason Griffiths and Chris Palmer with 10 apiece. Jason’s wins between 1993 and 2003 and Chris’s over a ten-year period 2003 to 2013.

Between 1991 and 2019 a total of 80 races have been run with race wins shared with 40 individual competitors.

In all 10,768 racing laps have been completed a distance of 45,764.000 miles.

The Steam Packet National Road Races and Post TT Road Races have brought a different dimension to the races at Billown. What was initially a meeting to keep ‘TT fans’ occupied whilst waiting for their sailings, is now an eagerly anticipated meeting, when no quarter is given or asked and is enjoyed by riders as they ease themselves back into ‘massed start’ racing after the rigours of the TT and likewise enthusiasts too enjoy the move back to ‘racing proper’ and all the excitement that goes with racing on the Billown Course.

We look forward to welcoming you all back to the Colas Billown Course on Saturday 12th June 2021.

(Photo courtesy of Richard Radcliffe on his way to his 12th Post TT Race victory in 2012 & on the Podium)

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